SAN MARCOS — In the weeks since news broke about sexual abuse charges filed against a former instructor at Callan Swim School, parents of past students and former staff members say the San Marcos school should face consequences for putting children in harm’s way.
Nicholas Piazza, 19, is facing two charges of child sexual abuse, one related to an alleged incident in July 2021 while he was working at Callan, and another from his time as a private swim instructor in Rancho Santa Fe this past September.
Piazza was arrested for his first charge in October 2021 but was released on bail and later prohibited from working with or being around children. He was arrested again in September following reports from the second victim and is currently being held without bail.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office plans to pursue these charges within one trial, with the next hearing scheduled for Dec. 6. The parent of Piazza’s alleged victim at Callan has also filed a separate civil lawsuit against the swim school, claiming it ignored signs of “sexual deviance” demonstrated by Piazza as early as 2020.
While Piazza appeared to stop working at Callan in October 2021 following his first arrest, the families he worked with did not know anything about his sex abuse charges until a month ago and said staff at the school would explain away his periodic disappearances before his arrest and afterward.
“I was super frustrated because we weren’t told, they were not transparent,” said Ashley (who asked not to use her real name), a parent whose son was taught by Piazza at Callan for several months in 2021. “The level of dishonesty was shocking.”
Parents of Callan students and former employees told The Coast News they recall Piazza being pulled from the pool sometime from late July to early August of 2021 but that he was back in the pool by mid-August and into September.
Court documents indicate that around this time, detectives were investigating the first case of alleged child sex abuse by Piazza and had advised swim school owner Brett Callan to pull Piazza out of the water in early August. However, court documents state that Piazza was back in the pool within a week.
“They told me he was out of the water because of COVID,” said Kimberley Palmer, who worked at Callan during the summer of 2021. “Then they said he tested negative and was allowed to go back in, but I had no idea that he was doing that to students.”
Palmer, who typically worked summers at Callan in between school semesters, said she only learned what happened when news of his second arrest came out last month and that it disturbed her.
“It broke my entire heart,” Palmer said. “For the owner and Nick’s mom to know exactly what’s happening and put him back willingly around those kids, what the f— are you thinking?”
Ashley recalled Piazza’s brief absence around August with little explanation before resuming swim lessons with her son until October. She was told by then-pool manager Larissa Oden, who is also Piazza’s mother, that Piazza had left to focus on his firefighting career.
Ashley said Oden then went on to take over lessons for her son. Oden did not respond to requests for comment from The Coast News.
After Piazza left Callan, Ashley said he texted her in May to offer private lessons for her son over the summer. In the texts shared with The Coast News, Piazza states, “[I] definitely am still teaching as a private instructor” and that he “would be more than happy to do privates for you guys.”
She declined at the time but said she still trusted him enough to refer some of her friends to him.
When she learned about the charges against him, Ashley said she couldn’t believe it and then panic set in when thinking that something could have happened to her son.
“Initially, it was just like disbelief,” Ashley said. “I was like, this has got to be some joke; this can’t be right. I feel like we knew him, we saw him twice a week for several months. And on top of that, having his mom then [as an instructor] for the following year … I felt like we knew them.”
Finding out that Callan officials had allowed Piazza back in the pool in 2021 after being told about the abuse investigation was even more unbelievable.
“Callan, they knew, they knew what they were doing. They put all of our kids in danger,” Ashley said.
Even after her son stopped working at Callan following his charges, Oden continued to work as the school’s general manager until late September, according to parents whose children were taking lessons at Callan at the time.
Raquel Smith, whose daughter continually took lessons at Callan from late 2020 until they pulled out of the school in October, said Oden was essentially in charge of the entire school and that owner Brett Callan was rarely onsite.
“(Brett Callan) is never, ever, ever, ever there. Larissa ran the show. It is her swim school,” Smith said. “She was the face of Callan — she made the schedule, she ran the whole thing.”
Weeks after the news came out regarding Piazza’s abuse both at and outside of Callan, Smith received a voicemail from the school which acknowledged that a former employee was facing charges of criminal activity involving a minor.
However, the Oct. 23 voicemail obtained by The Coast News stated, “to be clear, Nicholas Piazza was not working for Callan Swim School at the time that this event allegedly occurred” and made no mention of his previous child sex abuse charge related to a Callan student the previous year. Smith found this omission dishonest.
“They were claiming he was never employed when either of the allegations happened against him,” she said.
Previous red flags
While the District Attorney’s Office is not pursuing charges against the school at this time, the civil lawsuit filed by the parent of Piazza’s alleged 2021 victim claims the school retained Piazza as an employee despite earlier red flags preceding her son’s abuse.
In the suit, filed in mid-October, the parent claims that Piazza faced criminal charges in October 2020 related to “performing a sexual act with the family dog” while working at Callan and was allowed to be rehired months later.
“Callan Swim School holds itself out to patrons as ‘the safest place for your child to learn to swim,’” the suit states. “Yet it knowingly employed and exposed countless children to a sexual predator, which ultimately caused plaintiff, a vulnerable then-6-year-old boy, to suffer sexual abuse at the hands of his swim instructor.”
The Sheriff’s Department inmate detail log shows that Piazza is facing an unnamed charge in juvenile court. However, the District Attorney’s Office and the juvenile court declined to comment on whether it is the same charge referenced in the lawsuit since it allegedly occurred in 2020 when Piazza was a minor.
An attorney representing Callan Swim School denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
“We will be filing our responsive pleading in due course,” said attorney David Baumgarten. “For now, suffice it to say that we look forward to proving that the allegations against Callan Swim Schools are not true and clearing the company and its owners’ names. In the meantime, the school will stay focused on providing the safest and best experience for our students and parents.”
An attorney for Piazza declined to comment on the allegations regarding the dog, stating that he is not a party to the suit.
Former Callan general manager Amy Moreno — who has come forward with other concerns about Callan’s handling of Piazza’s situation — confirmed that she discussed this specific incident with Piazza’s mother and owner, Brett Callan, at the time.
Moreno stated that after hearing about the alleged sexual act with his dog, Brett Callan ordered Piazza to be laid off through January 2021, when he was hired back after receiving a doctor’s note saying it was safe for him to be around children.
“I was intimately aware of it because Larissa said I was her friend, and she was telling me (Piazza) had hashed out a deal with the DA to say that if he had no contact with police for a year, it would be expunged from his record,” Moreno said.
The suit also references a report made by a parent in early 2020 that Piazza had told her child to “reach toward his genitals” during a swim lesson. Moreno has previously stated that the parent did not want to pursue charges and instead moved her child to another instructor but that she informed Brett Callan about the incident.
A hearing for the civil case has been scheduled for March 2023.
Anyone whose child may have been abused by Piazza is urged to contact the Sheriff’s Child Abuse Unit at 858-285-6293. Individuals can also anonymously contact Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477.
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